United Kingdom

Currency unit



British Empire

Channel Islands


Northern Ireland











The official title of the country is: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the largest of the many islands. (The Great was originally intended to distinguish it from the lesser Britain, Armorica, now Bretagne in France.) The "United" refers to the union of England and Scotland. Before the partition of Ireland it was "and Ireland".

The state is composed of four nations: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Associated with it are the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney) not represented in Parliament but with their own governments. Of the nations, Scotland has an active Nationalist movement which has not yet gained support of the majority. Northern Ireland has two kinds of nationalists, opposed to each other. Its independence is possible, though not likely.

Until 2000 uniquely in Europe there were no federal institutions but only a unitary government. Scotland had a separate king until 1603 and was a separate kingdom with its own parliament until 1707 when the Treaty of Union came into force. It continued to have a separate judiciary, legal system, established Church and administration and now has an elected assembly (Parliament).

is the core of the state, though it has no separate status. The English (Angles and Saxons) arrived in England, conquering the Romanized native inhabitants from the 5th century. The descendants of the previous occupants are the Welsh (Cymri) who still live in Wales. Some say the English can be traced back, as the Scythians, north of the Black Sea and even as far as Afghanistan 3000 years ago (Sakai Sun). (But see this article for a discussion of this much disputed idea).

Unlike France and some other mainland countries there was no continuity in Britain with the Roman Empire. The invading Anglo-Saxons set up their own kingdoms and did not regard themselves as allies of Rome or dependent in any way on the institutions of the empire. They did not live in the old cities (which may have been empited by Plague). The only institution that may have passed from the old order to the new was the monastery of Glastonbury (but this is disputable - did it in fact still exist?), which the Saxons did not reach until the 7th century. Rome's influence, when it came, was via the Church, but the earliest Christian influence came not from Rome but from Ireland and Scotland in the form of missionaries of the Celtic Church. The Roman missionaries, based on Canterbury in the kingdom of Kent gradually brought Latin and education to the country. Their main task was to set up a Roman type of church, rather than the Celtic type. This was decided finally at the Synod of Whitby (663). However, again unlike mainland countries, the most valuable early chronicles were written in English rather than Latin, and King Alfred translated many documents into the vernacular. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles continued until several decades after the conquest by Normans.

They formed a number of kingdoms which gradually coalesced into one based on Wessex (whose first king had a Celtic name - Cerdic, which may well have been Caradoc), while absorbing invaders from Denmark and Scandinavia in general. These Vikings contributed many words to the language and many place names, especially in northeast England and eastern Scotland.

In 1066 there was an invasion by Normans, who were Vikings who had settled in France. French remained the language of the king and the rulers for about another two hundred years (at one time thought to be a parallel with the Lacustrine states of East Africa). Perhaps it was this invasion which gave the country its centralized nature - though there were periods of feudal conflict when the barons tried to overrule the king. The English king has never been as powerless as the French king was in the 10th century (but never as powerful as Louis the fourteenth).

The first seed of the post-feudal English state perhaps occurred during the reign of King John (1199-1216) when the rebelling barons tried to limit the king's power with the Magna Carta, a statement of rights that the king should agree to respect - no more unlimited arbitrary power.

Until the 15th century the English kings ruled much of France but were driven out at the end of a period known as the 100 Years War, followed by a period of dynastic wars between different branches of the English royal family (Wars of the Roses). These ended in 1485 when a strong monarchy (Henry the seventh) took power. However, unlike in France the monarch was never allowed to become absolute and had to call parliaments to raise money for wars (usually against the Scots, the French, the Irish or the Welsh) and for government.

British Empire
From the 17th century first England, then Britain, was a power on a world scale. It is only suitable to call it Britain after the union with Scotland in 1704. The Empire began by English traders traveling in all continents, moved on to settlement in North America and military occupation of many parts of Africa and Asia. The period up to American Independence is sometimes called the First British Empire; from then until the second world war was the Second British Empire which included colonies in Africa, India and settlement of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Most of these are now members of the Commonwealth . (see main article here)

After a large star explodes in a supernova there remains a neutron star in the center. Modern Britain in international politics is the remaining neutron star after the Empire has exploded away. Until 1945 Britain was considered one of the world's major powers (and still has one of the five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council). Since 1945 it has declined to being one of the four largest European powers but has retained some of the institutions which operated a worldwide empire.

Perhaps Britain exemplifies the theory of history found in the work of Ibn Khaldun (Al Muqaddimah - The Introduction to History, 1377) that all human societies and enterprises have a time of growth and a time of decline caused mainly by the idleness brought about by riches.

The Anglo-Saxon (meaning invented in Britain) legal and financial systems are now found in many other countries of the former British Empire, especially in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In the past most British people believed these systems were superior in every respect to "foreign" systems. At present they are all under question as the Anglo-Saxon economies appear to be in decline in comparison with Germany, Japan and other Asian societies.

Britain has become a member of the European Union but successive governments (especially 1979-90) have often resisted close co-operation with the other members. Whereas France and Germany and some of the others appear to want a Federal State, the British government has resisted this concept and appears to prefer a free trade area without central institutions. This conflict seems likely to be the main political theme of the foreseeable future. A rail tunnel opened to link the main island with the mainland in 1994.

In its present weakened condition there seem to be only two alternative policies: closer integration with Europe accompanied by adoption of European policies of investment and education; or closer connection with North America. As the United States shares some of the industrial methods but also the social problems there are forces tending that way. However geography suggests it would seem more sensible to Europeanize. But resistance in the former governing party prevented Europeanization for three decades. Americanization might force the final abandonment of the Welfare State, leading to the same kind of urban violence common in the United States.

It is said that the military forces are so reliant on American equipment that independent military action is inconceivable. Thus for some purposes Britain is already part of the American military establishment.

The future of the state is also in doubt with respect to the future of Scotland. If Scotland were to secede, the remaining state of England and Wales might inherit the "British" institutions but would clearly be weaker and less important on a world scale. The Scottish National Party gained support in the most recent elections for the Scottish Parliament (2007) and forms the government there.

Wales itself has a Nationalist Party (Plaid Cymru) which has a much smaller support at present than the Scottish National Party and seems unlikely to gain majority support. Northern Ireland may also break away, but probably not.






Many Commonwealth languages, including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati

 Anglo-Saxon kings
 Edward the Confessor
 Norman kings
 William - 1066
 William 2
 Henry 2
 Henry 3
 Edward 1
 Edward 2
 Edward 3
 Richard 2
 Henry 4
 Henry 5
 Edward 4
 Henry 6
 (Edward 5)
 Richard 3
 Henry 7
 Henry 8
 Edward 6
 Elizabeth 1
 James 1
 Charles 1
 Charles 2
 James 2
 William 3
 George 1
 George 2
 George 3
 George 4
 William 4
 Edward 7
 George 5
 Edward 8
 George 6
 Elizabeth 2







The Evolution of the English state
The early state evolved from the feudal monarchy. The invading Normans destroyed most of the Anglo-Saxon institutions, except the concept of monarchy. William the first gave the land to his followers to rule in the form of feudal estates. Although he created the most complete survey of any state in Europe (Domesday Book) power was exercised through the feudal hierarchy rather than by a government bureaucracy. The king required soldiers and taxes. The feudal landlords had a duty to provide them. Even then the king had a court (curia) of officials including the Chancellor and Treasurer.

Over the centuries the Chancellor became the most important of the officials - the King's chief minister (servant).

Government reached its weakest point during the time of Stephen/Maud when a civil war between rival claimants to the throne allowed the feudal lords to act without restraint, attacking each other and preventing trade by robbing traders - behaving like the present day warlords of Somalia.

The rebuilding of the state begins with Henry the second who appointed royal judges to tour the country and hear cases at Assizes (sittings) and provide a source of justice different from the private courts of the barons, but the equivalent of when he heard cases himself. When he was frequently away in his French lands he appointed a deputy, the Justiciar, to rule the country in his absence. Thus, the concept of governance separate from the presence of the king was established.

Magna Carta
The next important step was the revolt of the Barons against king John. (His personality is much disputed, but they objected to his interfering with their rights and wanted a return to the "good practices", as they saw them, of his father Henry the second, but perhaps really they wished for the freedom of the time of Stephen when England was a "failed state".) In 1215 they forced him to agree, unwillingly, to a charter of grievances, largely drawn up by the head of the English Church, Stephen Langton. This established the concept that even the king was subject to law. Magna Carta set out principles that have remained part of English law ever since, and by succession the law of the United States also. While it is true that the Charter was concerned only with the rights of the Barons, and had nothing at all to do with the common people, nevertheless the concept of Law binding even the powerful eventually (in the 17th century) came to apply to everyone. One aspect of John's behaviour was that he had asserted the power of the king against the barons, as his father had done before him. The Great Charter was an assertion of the idea that reform of the state had to be agreed and could not be the act of the king alone. (The little Charter was a document of the same time that specified the law of the Forests - the king's hunting lands).

The first formal Parliament is considered to have been called by Simon de Montfort in the time of Henry the third, a rather weak king (1258). Before that the king had regularly consulted with his big men: Barons, Earls, Bishops and Abbots, but this was the first time he had also called on representatives of the Knights (two from each county) and burgesses from the towns.

From the beginning it was established that if the king wanted money he had to consult these people - the interest groups who had money - and they had to agree. This established the principle of government by consent, if only in embryo. The English king never acquired the power of the French king to demand taxes without consent. Charles the first tried it, and look what happened to him. (It has been argued that the French kings imposed a state of emergency during the wars with the English invaders during the 100 years war when no assembly could be called, and never gave up the emergerncy).

Prime Minister
As in most European countries the executive head of government is a Prime Minister who is a member of the elected assembly (House of Commons). Elections must be held after five years, but the Prime Minister can call one at any time he or she thinks victory is likely. This is also roughly the case in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Britain is the first of the constitutional monarchies in which the absolute power of a monarch has been modified until all the political power is exercised by a government responsible to an elected assembly. There are signs that the ritual functions of the monarch are being questioned and it is not impossible that the present holder of the office will be the last, to be replaced by an elected president.

Since the Revolution of 1688 the Monarch is subject to the power of Parliament and is an instrument of government. One example of this is the change of monarch in 1936 when King Edward the eighth was made to abdicate in favour of his brother, mainly because of his pro-Hitler sentiments.

The Monarch now has mainly ceremonial and symbolic functions. The only well defined political functions are exercised if it is not clear who has the confidence of parliament. These powers to invite someone to form a government have not been required since the 1930s (though they may have been used in 1963 when Douglas Home followed Harold Macmillan). The original absolute powers of the monarch - the Prerogative - can in some situations be exercised by the Prime Minister without reference to Parliament. A former Lord Chancellor (Speaker of the House of Lords and administrator of the Judiciary), Lord Hailsham, described this system as an Elective Dictatorship - his party was not in power at the time. Some argue that the Prerogative Powers contain the possibility of an unconstitutional dictatorship. If the 1992 election had resulted in a "hung" parliament (no party having a majority of seats, the monarch's duties would have been to ask the different leaders to form a government that could obtain a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

These functions could be exercised by an elected president, as in Ireland and other European countries.

Privy Council
The Prerogative powers are exercised through the monarch's PC (as Orders in Council - what in other countries is called a Decree or an Executive order), the organization out of which grew the cabinet. Opposition politicians can be members, which allows them to be briefed with secret information.

Parliament (House of Commons)
The electoral system remains First Past the Post FPTP (similar to the system used in the United States, but without run-offs) and without Primary elections. The actual members are chosen by local party caucuses (sometimes with a vote by the small number of party members). This forces political opinion into two main electoral vehicles, the Conservative Party (often called Tory) and the Labour Party. There is usually a third party, at present called Liberal Democratic. Regional parties: in Scotland, Scottish National; Wales, Plaid Cymru; and Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist, Democratic Unionist, Social Democratic and Labour (SDLP) also hold seats in the House of Commons (the elected chamber). The electoral system tends to exaggerate small changes in voting strength and in practice the voting in a small number of "marginal" voting districts determines the results of general elections. Thus governments can have a large majority of seats without a majority of votes, as was the case with the recent Labour government.

New electoral systems have been introduced for elections to the European Parliament (Party List), the Scottish Parliament (Additional members system, as in Germany) and the Welsh Assembly. In Northern Ireland a party list system has been used for the NI Assembly.

The Labour Party in opposition proposed constitutional changes including separate assemblies for Scotland, Wales as well as the English regions - something proposed at the beginning of the 20th century by the Liberal Party. If carried out this might give Britain a government structure similar to Germany, Italy or France. At present local governments, Counties and Districts, have few powers other than to act as agents of central government. Their powers are only delegated by Parliament and can be revoked at the will of Parliament. So far there have been no regional assemblies in England, except for London which now has an elected Mayor and local Assembly.

Uniquely in modern industrial states there is an unelected chamber of parliament, the House of Lords. Until 2001 the majority of members were hereditary, their right to sit being inherited from their fathers. (But most of these did not usually attend). There were also non-hereditary members (Life Peers) nominated by the Prime Minister; some of the Bishops of the Church of England (also nominated by the Prime Minister) sit in the Lords. So did some of the judges. By convention the Prime Minister also appoints Life Peers nominated by the Opposition. In the United States such appointments would be voted on by the Senate; in the United Kingdom no vote takes place.

A committee of the Lords (Judges only) used to act as the highest court of appeal, the equivalent of the United States's Supreme Court (but judgments can be overruled by the European Court of Human Rights or by the Court of the European Communities). However, in June 2003 it was announced that there would be a new Supreme Court, separate from the Lords. The Office of Lord Chancellor, dating back to 605 is to be abolished. (By 2005 none of these changes had occurred, though a Supreme Court was established in 2008.)

The powers of the Lords to veto legislation were removed in 1910 after they had foolishly failed to pass the Lloyd George budget of 1909. Since then they have been limited to delaying legislation and offering amendments. Amendments can be overruled by the Commons. The Lords have no power over Finance measures. In its favor it is said that the Lords contains people nominated because they are at the head of their profession or business and therefore possess expertise to put at the disposal of the state. An equivalent in the United States would include the heads of companies like Ford Motors, the top Physicians, the Presidents of Harvard or Berkeley, the heads of some of the most important churches and other voluntary societies. The hereditary members perhaps add a chance element of people, like a jury. They are not necessarily rich as the original estates have often been lost.

In 2001 most of the hereditary peers were removed and an appointments commission selected new Life Peers, ostensibly to remove this power from the Prime Minister. When one of the 92 remaining hereditary peers dies a replacement is chosen by an election by the the whole body of former hereditaries.

The main opposition party (Tories) has now proposed the replacement of the Lords by an elected chamber.

The political system is considered very stable as unconstitutional political action is extremely unlikely. Is it a democracy? That depends on the definition of democracy. Some have described it as an oligarchy - power remaining within a limited political class. Government is very secretive and the unwritten constitution is difficult to define. However, in 2005 a Freedom of Information Act has become effective and some of the secrecy is being opened up. In favor it can be argued that it can evolve more easily than those countries with written constitutions. Against, it is argued that the executive is not really controlled by the elected element and that the real government consists of a tribe of people who all know each other after attending the prestigious private schools. Moreover evolution could be towards dictatorship rather than more democracy.

In 2000 devolved assemblies were introduced for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with different powers for each. That for Scotland has the powers to make laws that affect only Scotland. That for Wales has no powers to change the laws but appoints an executive that can decide how to spend the revenue allocated it by the Westminster Parliament.

Because of Scottish devolution the powers of the British Parliament have been called in question. Should there be a state of England and Wales with its own institutions? The idea of federation is in the air.

Until 1997 the recent government was formed by the Conservative or Tory Party, in practice an informal coalition, as a group of right wing Conservative MPs were in revolt against the government's European policy. It had a working arrangement with the Ulster Unionist Party.

It was replaced by the Labour Party who won a large majority on first May 1997 and renewed it in June 2001. An election occurred in May 2005. The Labour Party was returned with a reduced majority and a much smaller proportion of the vote.

Prime Minister Tony Blair resigned in June 2007 after becoming unpopular because of his support for the Iraq war and was replaced by Gordon Brown.

A new election was held on 6 May 2010. In June 2009, it looked unlikely that Labour would gain a majority of seats, and might even be reduced to a small number, considering the very low vote in the European elections of June 2009, and the elections for County Councils. No-one knows what a Conservative government would do, but in the European parliament it is trying to ally itself with very far right parties in other European states, rather than with the Christian Democrats and UMP of France.

If no party has a majority of seats there are several possibilities:

  • Minority government - the largest party forms a government but has to negotiate each legislative action with the other parties
  • A coalition of two or more parties

A second election would probably follow.

The result of the election held on 6 May 2010 was ambiguous. The Labour Party lost 91 seats while the Conservative party won a similar number. The Liberal Democrats lost five seats (aggregating some losses and some gains).

None of these parties have enough seats to form a government with a majority in the House of Commons. The result was that the Conservative Party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This though the LibDem membership is opposed to many of the Conservative policies, and to the policies of the Coalition government.

Interesting Reading

Sir Frank Stenton Anglo-Saxon England (Oxf hist)

and the other Oxford History series.

Thomas Nicholas - The Pedigree of the English People (1878)
Modern reprint

Pedigree of the English People: An Argument, Historical and Scientific, on the Formation and Growth of the Nation

Walter Bagehot - the English Constitution

The English Constitution (Oxford World's Classics)

John O'Farrell - An impartial History of Britain

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge)

Trevor Royle - Wars of the Roses

Wars of the Roses

(and the war in France)
Simon Jenkins - A Short History of England

A Short History of England

Norman Davies - Vanished Kingdoms

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

He thinks it likely that the United Kingdom will not exist in the near future.







Britain is the country where the Industrial revolution began and from the late 18th century until the mid-19th century was the dominant industrial power in the world. During this period there was a high rate of innovation and increasing productivity. From 1851 Germany began to catch up and overtake and following the American Civil War the United States also overtook British manufacturing capacity. However, innovations continued to come from British researchers and engineers. One handicap may have been that much of Britain's exports went to Britain's colonies which did not require the most sophisticated goods. Some historians have suggested this insulated British industry from competition until the 1950s.

In 1945 Britain had the largest intact manufacturing capacity in Europe, but paradoxically this proved a disadvantage in comparison to Germany. German industry had been largely destroyed by bombing and confiscations at the end of the second world war. Thus, Germany built new factories to the latest, American, design. British factories were rather outdated and remained so for several years after. British factory owners could sell all they made and had no incentive to modernize.

During the 1980s manufacturing declined as a proportion of the economy, partly as a result of continuing failure to invest and modernize. Economists argue about whether this is inevitable or a serious disadvantage. As with the United States it has been accompanied by a growing trade deficit which the more pessimistic economists see as an absolute decline leading to future falls in the standard of living. More manufactured products are now imported than exported (since 1987).

In the 1970s first gas and then oil were discovered in the North Sea. Britain became a major oil producer which gave it a balance of payments advantage over other industrial economies. However, there have been no obvious benefits from the oil, whose production is now declining. The profits were not invested in industry and were used to import goods from abroad, or to pay unemployment benefits. Perhaps this is similar to the effect on 16th century Spain of the gold from the Americas.

Some economists believe Britain has invested too much in military research and has as a result invested too little in consumer products; whereas Japan has done the reverse and become rather successful. In addition there are the moral effects of relying on selling weapons to such countries as Iraq and Indonesia engaged in wars against their own people, and sometimes against British troops (as in Iraq and the Falklands).

The recent (1979-90) government had a policy of not directing or interfering with industry. Almost all other successful economies, such as Japan and Germany, have government consultation or direction of industry. As did the United States it concentrated on monetary policy, which proved inadequate to direct the economy. Conversion from a mixed economy to a privatized system does not seem to have reversed the decline and it has since accelerated.

Britain has agreed with the other members of the European Union to remove all trade barriers with other member states. There is uncertainty about the economic effect this is having. Some believe the increased competition will make British industry more efficient. Others think the more efficient and farsighted German and French companies will take over even more of British industry and that possibly the Japanese branch factories will migrate towards Europe.

The Conservative Government policy appeared to have been to try to attract overseas investors by lowering wages and reducing social security charges: much as Mexico attracts US companies. This may be the reason for that government's refusal to accept the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union. But low wages seem to go with poor training and lack of skills.

Another view is that the British and American financial structures are designed to extract profits from industry, not to encourage investment. Thus some of the best brains (but also some rather mediocre people) go into banking where they devise interesting financial instruments, such as "junk" bonds. It might be better if they became production engineers and devised better ways of generating the wealth. In both Britain and America investment bankers are paid more and valued more than engineers, though they cannot be shown to increase wealth at all. The financial system is sensitive to short term stimuli but not as efficient as the Japanese and German systems at planning and investing for the distant future.

Some economists criticize the poor transport system in Britain which even with the Channel Tunnel may impede access to the European market. A formerly extensive rail network has been allowed to run down through lack of investment and planning. Economists also criticize the British education and training systems which, while educating a minority to a high standard, fail to teach the majority, leaving Britain with a poorly trained work force which discourages investment. Generally the outlook is poor unless changes are made to these, but government policy is to spend even less.

Some believe that a major change in the political system is needed, including proportional representation to prevent extremists of the right and left from alternating in office (though left wing extremists have not in fact ever succeeded). A change of government has in the past led to major changes of economic policy, especially over industrial investment. In other European countries changes have not been so radical.

An accelerating decline in manufacturing industry during 1992 led to fears of radical economic collapse unless an abandonment of the laisser faire industrial policy could be persuaded on an ideologically committed government.

The New Labour government elected in 1997, and re-elected in 2001 seems to have had little more success. The pound rose against the euro (or the euro fell against the pound) and manufacturing industry continued to shrink, although Services boomed, keeping unemployment low. Manufacturing migrated to countries with a lower wage level: Eastern Europe, Malaysia, China. Since 1997 the Labour government has adopted European legislation on employment, introduced a minimum wage and has achieved very low unemployment, now (2009) rising rapidly towards 3 million.

Will Britain adopt the euro as currency? The government has promised that the change would not be made without a referendum. It seems unlikely that Britain will adopt the euro as its currency as opinion polls show that voters are likely to vote against, if asked. The troubles of the euro in Greece and other countries in 2010 make it even less likely that Britain would ever join.

The 2008 financial collapse in the United States also affected Britain where people and businesses also relied on very high levels of debt, often unsecured on real assets. A rapid decline in the value of the pound against the dollar and euro once again raised the question of whether successive British governments had been wise to resist joining the euro zone. The crisis also revealed the extent to which governments had been relying on the financial services "industry" to replace the manufacturing industry that disappeared in the 1990s. As in the US there is now the question of whether the government can borrow enough from China and the Arab states to maintain a modern economy. And also, if the Chinese lend money, what they will want in exchange. (Recognition of their rights in Tibet seems to be the first demand - achieved in November 2008 with British recognition of Chinese rights in Tibet).

Many of the large remaining businesses, such as electricity generation and steel are now owned by foreign companies (including state owned French companies - Electricité de France). Steel and Landrover are owned by companies from India.

Perhaps Britain's economic history could be described as follows:

  • Medieval period - sale of wool for cloth
  • Piracy period (the British Empire). The wealth from the plantations built the country houses
  • Industrial period - the wealth came from coal and industry
  • Oil period - exploiting the North Sea oil propped up the economy while manufacturing industry shrank. The oil is nearly all pumped out now
  • The financial period - the banks and hedge funds flourished, then collapsed in 2009
  • How will Britain make a living after all these resources have ended?







The 1979-97 government did not cooperate with world attempts to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions and had a history of resisting European demands for reduction in sea, river and beach pollution, control of automobile exhausts and waste disposal.

British industry has been more reluctant than most to undertake research into non-polluting technologies, thus abandoning the industry to the Germans.

The recent Labour government may have been trying harder, but such measures as reducing carbon output are not making much progress, except by the accident of closing down the heavy industries.

Population continues to rise. Present trends suggest that Britain will become one of the most populous countries in Europe. Does that mean that British people will use the freedom of movement of the European Union to settle in other states? Already many go to live in Spain and France. There is also a high rate of immigration from eastern Europe and the rest of the world.






Human Rights

Britain has a reputation for a high standard of human rights. Torture is very rare, (except that allegations were made a few years back about army behavior in Northern Ireland), imprisonment without court order was also unknown (except in Northern Ireland until the 1970s, and for other terrorists under the Prevention of Terrorism Act). Individual rights are respected by governments. However, there have been cases in which people have served terms of imprisonment for offenses of which the courts have later found them innocent. These suggest that even in systems with a good reputation there is room for vigilance and improvement. A number of Irish cases have caused doubts about the functioning of the justice system.

However, these standards seem to have slipped with the "War on Terror". See Torture.

Until 2005 there was no Freedom of Information Act and the government had a reputation for secrecy and news manipulation by "voluntary advice" (known as the D Notice system) which amounted in practice to press censorship. There is an Official Secrets Act which forbids all government employees from revealing information to the media. Members of designated guerrilla groups from Northern Ireland were forbidden to be heard on the media for some years. Media can be intimidated by the government in various ways. The BBC is dependent on government which sets the license fee; commercial stations are dependent also for their franchises and the conditions of awarding them. Nevertheless the BBC has a reputation for impartiality, which may be recovering now after the end of the 1979-90 government.

The prisons have a reputation for overcrowding as Britain has a larger population of prisoners than most European states.

1994 Laws on protest, travel and trespass may contravene the UN Declaration of Human Rights by making freedom of assembly difficult. 2001 laws on terrorism are admitted to breach European Declaration on Human Rights.

Since the events in New York of 11 September 2001 Britain has cooperated closely with the United States. The British government seems to have acquiesced in the torture at the various US camps, as at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and others, and has been reluctant to intervene on behalf of British citizens in these camps. Some foreign nationals have been held without trial in British prisons - though the House of Lords (Supreme Court) has ruled these detentions as illegal. The outlook for human rights seems uncertain with a rather authoritarian minded government in power and under the influence of an increasingly authoritarian United States.

In March 2005 Parliament gave the Home Secretary the power to order detention of terrorist suspects, supervised by a judge.

Climate effects

Climate Change is likely to see low lying land inundated and lost to cultivation, and probably the loss of large parts of several important cities, including London and Liverpool. Southern England is sometimes thought likely to change to something closer a Mediterranean climate but the Summer of 2012 showed that if the Jetstream becomes fixed in a more southerly position (as a result of the warming of the Arctic) flooding and sunless days are also possible - and perhaps more likely - with poor harvest. There may be population movement northward within the United Kingdom, and perhaps refugees from southern Europe demanding entry.

The belief that climate change may bring warmer weather may have made many people complacent about the problem and feel that perhaps the problem does not need to be tackled. The 2012 summer of endless rain may change this attitude.

Last revised 12/08/12


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